That mayhem in Zaki Biam

The mayhem in Zaki Biam, Benue State on Monday, March 20, 2017, which led to the killing of scores of innocent peasants and traders in the international yam market, was evidence of how impunity and wanton killings have sucked into the country.  The agrarian community, which was emerging from a brutal massacre by the military in 2001, was visited with a barbaric invasion by local bandits who left massive destruction in their wake. We join President Buhari and other well-meaning Nigerians in condemning that savage act.

Governor Samuel Ortom has revealed that the perpetrators of the mayhem could be a faction of political thugs who had been previously granted amnesty by the state. The hoodlums he referred to are suspected to belong to Terwase Akwaza (alias Gana’s) gang which had made fortunes and acquired properties as merchants of death in Benue in the last political dispensation. They had been patronized by the political class for electoral gains, but now that the table has turned, the terrorists have turned their weapons against local folks in Benue state.

In an interview he granted the Daily Trust, Ortom explained the situation thus: “You are aware that some politicians had armed some of our youths to help them prosecute their elections. Unfortunately when they did not win the youths were left and their arms were not recovered. We had to contend with this when I came on board. I decided that we would provide amnesty since these are our own children and I needed to find a way of giving them a new orientation; a new hope in life.” Apparently the amnesty was not a complete success, as some who were supposed to have repented killed the governor’s Special Adviser on Security, Denen Igbana.

Since the murder of the governor’s aide, there has been a running battle between security agencies and Gana’s gang, leading to a split in the criminals’ ranks. While the majority of them loyal to Gana engaged in kidnapping for ransom, cattle rustling and armed robbery in and around Benue State, the other faction which genuinely embraced the amnesty accepted to work with government. They were employed to provide security in Zaki Biam market, among other institutions. It was in an attempt to decimate the ranks of their renegade members that Gana loyalists attacked Zaki Biam.

Ugly as it is, the narrative by the governor altered the initial fear that the attack might have been carried out by killer-herdsmen who had been in tit-for-tat attacks with farmers in the state. However, it is essential that political leaders deeply reflect and ascertain the genuineness of the repentance claims of criminals before handing down amnesty to them. The important lesson here is that unsolicited amnesty to criminals is of no value.

We join Governor Ortom in calling on traditional rulers in Benue and in other parts of Nigeria to desist from providing cover for criminals. Those who shield bandits do so at their own peril because such outlaws would turn their weapons against those who have shielded them from the long arms of the law. We call on intelligence and security agencies to work with local communities in order to fish out Gana and his gang to ensure they are brought to book.

Though Ortom has speculated that the attackers wanted to hit back at some of their former members who have embraced peace, it is still important to set up a panel of inquiry into the mayhem in order to probe the full ramifications of the threat posed to Benue State by the thugs. If they attacked Zaki Biam and go scot-free, it is possible that they would attack another important community in a much more vicious way to prove to government that they are invincible. The government should work with other security agencies to ensure that future threats are nipped in the bud.

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